Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History

The Art of the Book in the Ilkhanid Period

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The arts of the book in the Ilkhanid period reached unparalleled levels, not only in quantity but also in quality. The new rulers gave impetus to book production after they settled in their capitals of Maragha, Tabriz, and Baghdad and developed an interest in historical writings as a means to further their claim to rule over a foreign land. Not surprisingly, they chose the Shahnama (Book of Kings) as a sort of official dynastic history in which the Ilkhanids identified themselves with kings and heroes of the Iranian past.


The Mongols clearly brought with them an excitement about the art of painting.

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Cited Works of Art or Images (1)

  • Tarikh-i jahan-dusha (The Author with a Mongol Prince)

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The Mongols' attitude toward the power of the word and the image, however, is not sufficient to explain the unprecedented use of high-quality paper, the richness of illumination, the refinement of calligraphy, and the blossoming of illustration that Iran and Iraq witnessed during the Ilkhanid period (34.24.1; 34.24.3). The Mongols clearly brought with them an excitement about the art of painting. Local artists readily absorbed the new artistic influences from China, transmitted through scrolls (1989.363.5) and drawings, and integrated them into the type of painting with which they were most familiar, book illustration. At the end of the thirteenth century, the early integration of foreign elements was awkward (Tarikh-i jahan-gusha, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris). Within two decades, however, artists had created a new eclectic style that reached a high point with two masterpieces of Ilkhanid painting: Rashid al-Din's Jamic al-tavarikh and the Great Mongol Shahnama (33.70; 52.20.2).

The dynamic, almost dramatic phase of Ilkhanid painting would slowly be replaced during the waning years of the dynasty with a new, understated, and more refined style that provided the basis for developments in the following two centuries. Later Persian scholars were so keenly aware of the importance of these changes that they described the Ikhanid period as the time when "the veil was lifted from the face of Persian painting."

It was in the capitals Tabriz and Baghdad that Ilkhanid art flourished at its highest levels, reaching an apex with the production of the Great Mongol Shahnama. Its dramatic style of painting was replaced by a quiet world that suited the vision of the newly arrived Mongol patrons, the Jalayirids (1340–1411), who were captivated by Persian poetry, in which illustrations of battle scenes and heroic feats became merely symbolic and almost motionless (2008.31). The Jalayirids played an important role in providing a bridge between the Ilkhanids and Timur (Tamerlane), who saw himself and his dynasty, the Timurids (1370–1507), as the rightful successors of the Mongols.

Stefano Carboni
Department of Islamic Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Qamar Adamjee
Department of Islamic Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Tarikh-i jahan-gusha (History of the World Conqueror), A.H. 4 Dhu’l-hijja 689/December 8, 1290
Probably Iraq (Baghdad)
Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris